Earl the McNab

Earl the McNab
Earl the Mcnab

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Household Harmony: McNabs, Cats and Papillon

Molly McNab at Six Months
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
It has been nearly a week since Mattie-Kate the Papillon joined us.  That week has required constant vigilance -- not just for signs of imminent bodily functions, but for Mattie's protection from the hazards that constantly face little quarter-pound fluff balls.  Here, those hazards include being tumbled over by an exuberant McNab puppy (Molly) or being eviscerated by a very sensitive ginger cat (Froggy).  For days, Froggy growled, bared her teeth and hissed at Mattie-Kate, letting out that plaintive low "yowww" in warning.  When I crated Mattie-Kate and prepared to leave the house for the first time without her this week, Froggy did little to reassure me by perching atop the crate, peering over the side, and growling at the puppy.

Froggy Isabella the Ginger Cat
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Something clicked yesterday, though. Froggy joined me in the bathroom -- yes, the bathroom -- and emended the usual both-hands-required petting she likes.  Suddenly, and surprisingly, she stretched herself up towards my face and reached out to gently pat my cheek with one paw.  Three times she did this.  Now, I know humans are humans and cats are cats -- but her message was clear:  Froggy was reassuring me that she was trying to be a good cat.

I'll understand if you think I'm crazy for anthropomorphizing this way.  Still, Froggy's behavior has been markedly different since then.  She has abruptly quit hissing at the puppy. She has stopped the "stalking" behavior she demonstrated for five full days. Mattie-Kate has bumped into Froggy accidentally in the hallway -- literally bumped into her, muzzle broadside into Froggy -- and Froggy walked away without swatting her or acting overly miffed.  Mattie has approached Froggy several times and Froggy has not hissed.  This morning, Mattie had the audacity to chase both Froggy and Willie -- and they both ran, good-naturedly.  At the moment, Froggy lies beside me on a chair, dreaming happy cat dreams, whiskers and paws twitching - and Mattie lies beneath my chair, dreaming her own dreams.

Earl the McNab has lightened up, as well.  He pouted, nearly despondent, the first few days after Mattie arrived. Now, he is grinning his happy grin again.  Yesterday, I trusted him with guarding the puppy on the front patio as I fed the chickens.  He lay a few feet from her, watching her, quite serious. Mattie was in good paws.

As for Molly the McNab, she continues to adore that puppy. Mattie quickly became Molly's sidekick.  They wrestle several times throughout the day.  They share the same dinner bowl, despite my efforts to separate them. Molly goes with me when I take Mattie out to relieve herself throughout the night.  Mattie climbs all over Molly, growling that priceless, fierce puppy growl, and Molly turns to look at me, grinning exuberantly, proud of "her" puppy.

As for Shotgun Willie, our laid-back Big Mr. Sexy of a grey tabby?  Mattie chases him, gnawing on his legs, and he minds not at all.  His life is probably easier thanks to her presence:  Molly wrestles with Mattie now rather than tackling Willie and pinning him down.  Willie and Mattie shared the cat tree this morning, Willie reclined on the lower platform while Mattie lay beneath him.
Shotgun Willie (top) and Mattie-Kate
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
The difference, now, is that they all trust each other.  Mattie-Kate came to us an innocent, trusting of all.  Earl had to learn to trust that she would not steal the attention and affections of Russ and myself. Molly, still a trusting puppy herself, had to trust that she could play with the new arrival without being scolded (as I do when she chases the cats, teases Froggy and tackles William).  Willie is a confident cat and quickly trusted that Mattie-Kate was a pal -- he was merely cautious at first.  Froggy was toughest:  she had to learn to trust that she could continue her normal, happy life. Froggy loves her routine and Mattie disrupted it. Now she has learned to co-exist.

Strangely, Froggy even lightened up more toward Molly this week.  Yesterday, Froggy took refuge in the shower.  Molly joined her and they touched noses affectionately, sitting next to each other on the cool tile. Soon, I expect Mattie will be curled up beside Froggy in a warm spot in the sun.

We're back to normal, now -- as normal as a house full of active young animals can be.  All are getting along; any tension has dissolved. All are happy.  All is well.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be used, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, are encouraged and may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, +1'ing, forwarding, tweeting, sharing or otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for visiting!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Incredible, Instinctive Nurturing Nature of the McNab

Molly McNab and Mattie-Kate Papillon
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

When I decided we'd add a puppy to our furred family, I was apprehensive.  I've had Papillons (or a Papillon-Chihuahua cross) for nearly 20 years, and I've always had large dogs at the same time; yet this time, I worried. Our young McNab, Molly, had just turned six months old -- and what a bundle of happy, energetic, persistent puppy-ness she is. Whereas Earl the McNab is more sensitive and retreating, Molly is spunky and unsinkable.  She'll tease and cajole, be it her humans, her horses or her cats. She herds the cats and the horses and she "rounds up" her favorite things.  I was concerned she'd be too energetic and careless around a puppy as small as a Papillon and that she'd trample the new pup beneath her feet like the tiny butterfly Mattie-Kate is.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Too, I worried about my relationship with Molly.  We're close.  I work from home and I'm here with my critters close to constantly. Molly is ever at my side; as I type, she's sleeping behind my chair. At night, when I'm in the tub, she's either on the bath mat or sleeping at the doorway. She's at my side when I do the livestock chores and she's my companion when I'm having an afternoon nap.  Perhaps a hundred times a day she gives me those ecstatic, loving kisses she delights in -- her paws on my lap, maybe on my shoulders if I'm kneeling to greet her, covering  me in affection.  I love that darned dog and I didn't want anything to change our mutual adoration.

Finally, I was concerned that the strong personality of a Papillon -- and make no mistake, they have huge and courageous personalities for small dogs -- would clash with Molly's big personality.  Molly's resilient, physically and mentally tough, and perhaps a tad bit domineering. She bowls Earl over physically and emotionally. She bowls me over with her joie d'vivre and her happy-go-lucky nature. Sometimes she'll get snarly when Earl or Froggy the cat approaches her dish.  I wondered how she'd accept a tiny, vulnerable pup. Would she snap at her when the puppy tried to play with her toys?  Would she growl when she approached Molly's dish?

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
And then we brought Mattie-Kate home after nine long days of waiting with alternating excitement and apprehension.  Molly greeted the fluff ball with cautious curiosity, perhaps a bit abashed.  Then, something wonderful happened: Molly, just a puppy herself, took Mattie under her wing.  She began gently playing with her, wrestling carefully on the bed just as Earl had wrestled with Molly four months ago.  Just as Earl had done, she brought her favorite toys to Mattie and gently bumped them against Mattie's nose.  As Mattie gave her what-for, leaping at Molly and snapping playfully at her cheeks and muzzle, Molly became more comfortable playing with her.  Soon she was pinning her down with one paw, grinning from ear to ear, and licking her.  When Mattie began to grab Molly's tail -- hard -- with her little barracuda teeth, Molly looked alarmed -- for about two seconds.  Now she just wags and turns circles.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Molly not only didn't snarl when Mattie joined her at feeding time, but she lets Mattie eat out of the same dish at the same time.  Mattie, of course, prefers doing that to eating out of her Mattie-sized "princess" dish, even though the food is the same.

What's most amazing, though, is how protective our young Mollster has become of her little pal.  She keeps her in constant sight when we're in the backyard, often touching her with her nose.  When Mattie is sleeping, Molly quietly and tenderly touches her muzzle with her own nose, smelling that puppy breath.  When Froggy the petulant ginger-cat approaches (and Froggy still has not accepted Mattie), Molly steps between them and chases Froggy away.  Crate-training has not been easy with Mattie -- and when she shrieks that special Papillon banshee-shreik, Molly consoles her through the openings in the crate.

It is rare we raise our voices to our dogs.  McNabs are sensitive and don't require scolding; a simple "no" in a conversational tone can be devastating to them. Now that I'm teaching Mattie, I can barely utter a quiet, "No, Mattie" without having Molly bolt between us and lick my face, wiggling in protective concern.  Russ calls her our "police dog" because she intervenes in any conflict, real or perceived, trying to protect her little Pap sister.  Mattie isn't just Moll's playmate; she's more like Molly's own puppy.

It's as if my puppy Molly grew up overnight. Suddenly she's more serious, more focused. I didn't expect that, even from a dog from such good working stock.  Neither did I expect this dynamic:  Earl is depressed, feeling left out.  Just a few days ago, HE was Molly's mentor and protector.  Nightly, they played tug of war and wrestled before snuggling bed with us.  Now, Molly is turning to Mattie for her playtime.  The paw is on the other foot.  Earl's not happy about it.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller 
We're spending more time engaging Earl (and Froggy the cat) until the household normalizes.  Meanwhile, Molly happily shares her boundless affection with the new arrival.  I've marveled many times at how protective our Mcnabs are:  how, when we walk, Earl waits for the person or dog in the rear to catch up and will wait behind if they stop.  Now I marvel again, watching this solid, bounding Molly puppy babysit the tiny handful of a Papillon.  Not only do I no longer worry about Molly behaving aggressively towards the feisty fur ball, but I know that when Molly is on the job, no one else is going to hurt little Mattie.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
And is that any wonder, after all?  These dogs were bred for generations to work livestock and, to some degree, to "train" and nurture the rookie cattle dogs beside them.  Bred selectively for rounding up wilder cattle on rugged land, they carefully ensure they've located and brought in the cattle hiding in thickets of brush well away from the herd.  It shouldn't surprise me that the same traits are reflected in their relationships with their humans and canine counterparts.  When Earl waits for me when we're walking the fence line, it's this innate trait that emerges -- leave no one behind.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Amazing dogs, these McNabs.  How blessed we are to have them in our lives.

Copyright © 2014 * All rights reserved * No part of this article may be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, are encouraged and may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, loving, sharing, forwarding, +1'ing and tweeting and otherwise helping grow my readership -- and most of all, thank you for stopping by.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Introducing Mattie-Kate, Our New Family Member

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

In November we said goodbye to our little human in a fur coat, K8 the Gr8.  Katie was a Papillon, a warrior princess in sable-and-white.  For thirteen years she told us all what to do -- and we happily did it.  K8 developed lung cancer, glaucoma and breast cancer, and thus -- when the time came -- we said another hard goodbye.

I swore to myself I'd never get another small dog.  I've always kept three (sometimes four) dogs at a time -- one small one among the big dogs.  It has been the perfect combination.  But here, in the desert, the little ones are so vulnerable -- needing extra protection from the wild things that grace us with their presence.  Like our kitties, they need extra care and vigilance. From hawks to rattlesnakes, coyotes to great horned owls, the little ones are easily snatched up.  We can't let them go out unattended, even in the fenced part of the yard; we can't take them on trail rides or let them off-lead on hikes in the Tonto.  

But K8 left a huge chasm in my heart.  We have been so happy with our Earl and Molly.  McNabs are our perfect dogs.  Yet small dogs are different entities than their larger counterparts -- almost, in my mind, a different species altogether.  Maybe it IS their vulnerability that endears them to us so closely, our human need to protect and nurture a creature so easily harmed. Maybe having that little pipsqueak around -- with the special needs a small dog has -- answers to that better part of ourselves, the part that wants to tend and protect.  

Still, I didn't give in.  I missed K8 every day -- her intelligence, her way of vocalizing very clearly what she wanted, needed and demanded.  I missed her sense of humor and her feistiness and the way her pantaloons swished side to side when she trotted. I missed her in every way.  I avoided thinking about her. The card the veterinary hospital kindly sent me when she died remains unopened, next to her boxed ashes.  I can't speak of her without crying.  I avoided doing so and I pushed her from my thoughts to keep that familiar lump from rising in my throat.

A few weeks ago, a severe storm with record-breaking rainfall struck. It washed away much of our newly-graveled driveway, eroded channels into our footpaths, carried away sand and dirt and a great deal of stock fence.  We ordered new gravel last week.  As he was leaving for work, Russ greeted the driver until I was able to make my way through the tangle of furry creatures blocking my way to the door.  By the time I got shoes on and made it outside, a fluff of tan and white was waiting on the front porch.  I burst out with, "A Papillon!" to no one in particular as I knelt to greet the little dog.  I turned to the driver, Knate, and said, "I miss my Papillon so much," with tears in my eyes.  He grinned and said, "We've got puppies!" just as my partner-in-crime, Russ, called out, "They've got puppies!"  I looked at him mournfully and he said, "I'll buy a puppy."

And so it came to be that Mattie-Kate joined us.  She is tiny and fluffy as a milkweed puff-ball.  We wrestled with a name:  Hannah, Cleo, Lucy, Mattie.  After bringing her home, we decided on "Mattie" after Mattie Ross, the feisty girl from True Grit. Within hours, she began showing her K8 the Gr8 tendencies:  lying on her back and pulling your hand toward her belly where she wanted to be scratched; burrowing into the blankets and pillows while making joyful Papillon noises; giving orders.  Russ said, "Her name is Mattie-Kate."  

Mattie-Kate's First Night with Us, Carefully Tended by Willie the Cat and Molly McNab
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Earl quickly welcomed Mattie-Kate, while Molly greeted her apprehensively, ears and tail low.  Shotgun Willie the cat immediately gave her a warm and happy nose bump.  Only Froggy Isabella, our sensitive and complicated ginger cat, is unhappy.  She shoots Mattie-Kate the stink-eye from across the room and growls and hisses at her whenever near. On the first night, as Mattie slept beside me on my pillow, I awakened to Froggy hovering over us and growling at the puppy.  I hissed at her and she briefly vanished, only to waken me again a bit later with a growl.  Dozey, I didn't open my eyes until Mattie screamed in terror -- Froggy had apparently swatted Mattie's head before skulking off in a dark mood.

It has now been three days. Froggy has yet to accept Mattie, but the rest of the household adores her.  Earl is now shy but gentle around her, as he once was with the kittens.  Molly?  Molly has adopted her as sister, friend and playmate.  Mattie-Kate is already showing signs of ruling with the regal iron paw that K8 had.  What Mattie wants, Mattie gets -- just as K8 did.  She sleeps snuggled in among the pillows, sometimes on top of my head, sometimes stretched out paws-behind-her in swimmer fashion, nestled beside Molly. Mattie keeps up well when we walk to the barn or feed the chickens -- and she and Molly play constantly.  Throughout the day she is at my feet, sometimes growling and attacking my shoe, other times snuggled beside them and sleeping soundly at perfect peace.

So we are now a full house with three dogs and two cats, all of them wild cards.  It's rambunctious and yippy and funny and busy. We sleep among two McNabs and a little fur ball like pieces of a strangely-textured jigsaw puzzle.  We wend our way through the house surrounded by happy, energetic creatures. We've returned to normal, again.  All is well.  All is as it should be.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this article may be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, +1'ing, sharing, forwarding, tweeting or otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for reading! Don't forget to sign up for email updates!

Next Up:  The Nurturing Nature of McNabs!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Molly McNab at Six Months

Oh, fair reader, I know you've missed our Molly McNab updates. Forgive me, for I've been preoccupied playing with a very rambunctious, smart, and oh-so-sweet six-month-old bundle of happiness.  We call her "Jolly Molly" for the sheer joy that radiates from her sleek black-and-white self.  Whatever she is doing, even when she's being scolded, she is exuberant.

I hate to say it, but I enjoy her naughtiness try as much as her occasional good behavior.  She's so … happy. She barks at the horses and tries to herd them with every happy ounce of her being.  She gets too warm in the Arizona sun and she throws herself down into the muddiest, coolest place she can find. When I scold her -- and there are times -- she grins, ears down, and wiggles to me in the happiest act of contrition she can manage. She loves it, I think, when I tell her "bad dog."  That's when she's at her wiggliest.  She works her way into my arms and licks my face with special enthusiasm.  She's my bad, bad, good, sweet dog.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Molly at Six Months
And how is she naughty?  Let me count the ways.  She loves to attack William the cat.  Lovingly and playfully, of course, but unaware of the fact she outweighs him by 30+ pounds.  She wrestles with him and gnaws on his neck until his beautiful, rabbit-like coat is pasted together with puppy-slobber.  She harasses Froggy relentlessly; sensitive, temperamental red-headed ginger-cat Froggy.  Froggy takes the high ground and bats at Molly's grinning face. They've come to quite the understanding, those two.

She acts out as when I leave without her. She empties the few wastebaskets that don't have hinged lids and she shreds the dried out teabags I've invariably left in the office trash. She drags dirty clothes out of the hamper in the closet and stores them in a proud collection of her favorite things, kept on a leather cushion in the living room.  There, we retrieve our shoes, shorts, the cat's collar -- whatever we can't find in its proper place. She doesn't (with a notable exception) chew them up; she collects.

The exception?  Last week I had just opened a new tube of Burt's Bees chocolate-blueberry lip balm. (It's even more wonderful than it sounds.) I stuck it in the pocket of my work shorts and, when I dressed to go out, tossed shorts in the hamper. When I got home, I could smell it:  chocolate-blueberry wafting through the bedroom.  Molly had chewed "through" the pocket and crushed the lip balm without ever ripping the shorts.  Could I blame her?  Chocolate-blueberry! Who could resist?     

She licks my face like I've smeared a liver masque on myself.  She loves to give almost frenzied kisses. I laugh or say, "No, enough!" which only accelerates the speed-of-lick. I don't care about dog germs. I love it when my dogs lick my face. Maybe in my next 50 years it'll kill me. What a way to go!  

She's relatively vocal. Unlike our McNab Earl, Molly is a yipper-snapper.  She barks in excitement as we go out to do chores. She barks when she herds the horses. She makes countless varieties of noises as she and Earl play tug-of-war with the tiger-ring toy. She barks when someone drives up the drive -- that's a good thing, by the way.            

She puts her paws on the edge of the kitchen island and watches us as we cook, eat, or work on the iPad. I have never had a puppy so heathen. Yet it's because she's such a joy, we have willingly abandoned nearly all rules. We love that our dogs are dogs and our cats are cats (when the dogs and cats aren't being human and when the cats aren't being dogs). We let them get away with things and we watch them in the act and look at each other, my husband and I, and we laugh. 

And in the ways it matters, she's perfect. She won't leave the property. She comes when we call her. She loves the cats and she loves her older brother Earl. She is reliably good-natured. She won't chase the cottontails or bark at the chickens. She's physically tough, has endless energy, and her antics amuse us more than "formal" entertainment ever could.  She's a wildly histrionic actress; when we tell her, "Bang! Bang!" or make a finger-gun gesture at her, she throws herself over like a character actor in a B-grade western, lies still for a minute and then pops her head up at us to make sure we were watching.

Most of all, her happiness is as contagious as Ebola. She brings such enthusiasm to all she does. Who can help but get caught up in her games of keep-away and tag? Who can't laugh to see her barking at the horses, her nose inches from theirs?  

There was a time when I thought dogs should be trained to the point they were not disruptive. Now, I love having my dogs disrupt my life. It's rewarding to see them express themselves as dogs, not as sterile, submissive furry robots. 

Go ahead, Molly, steal my shoe. Do be gentle with the kitties, though. We love them, too. 

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Let's Here it for the Naughty Dog!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Doctor Molly, Coach Willie -- My Therapy Team

This morning that I realized that really, the term "therapy dog" is redundant.  What dog-lover among us can say that our dogs aren't therapeutic by nature? The thought came to mind as I attempted to do my morning regimen of physical therapy for my bad wing -- a rotator cuff injury that resulted in adhesive capsulitis, more commonly known as "frozen shoulder."

As I lay flat on my back on my exercise mat, Molly wiggled onto my chest and covered me with kisses.  (Yes, I do let my dogs lick my face.  So sue me. )  This is her own daily regimen, as coach and cheerleader for my rehab program:  turn the discomfort into laughter, the groans into giggles.  Molly has already developed a keen sense of my own emotions and can shut off her rambunctiousness in seconds when she senses I need a few minutes of snuggling.

She has help, though.  Within a couple of minutes of Molly's participation, Shotgun Willie the tabby cat gets involved.  They team up.  As Molly stretches out on my chest, legs extended behind her and front paws on either side of my neck, Willie crawls beneath my bent knees.  There, he plays with the frayed edge of my shorts, or nips the back of my thigh, before relaxing and lying there happily, front paws curled up beneath him.

The very accessories necessary for my exercises are of great interest to my furry cheerleaders.  Some of the stretches require the use of a wooden dowel -- a dowel that now has tiny teeth marks on the end.  Prior to stretching, I warm up using an arm-bike device.  Molly is fascinated and barks at the machine as I pedal it with my hands.  Willie, ever-unflappable and at home in the world, lies so close to the pedals that they bump his whiskers when it's in motion.  Trusting cat, that one.  Watching carefully as I pedal is actually a great distraction for me as I contend with the monotony.

Eventually, despite their help, I finish my floor exercises.  As I stand to do the remaining set, Molly and Willie immediately take over the exercise mat.  The five dog beds, multiple pieces of cat furniture, and other soft places to lie down aren't nearly as appealing as the space I either want to occupy or have just relinquished.  That's just the nature of dogs -- and cats.

One Dog. One Cat.  One Exercise Mat. One Terrific Therapy Team.

My "therapy dogs" encourage me to exercise. They nurture me when necessary.  They keep me sane and lift my spirits when I've got the mean blues. They listen to my tales of woe.  They praise me with tail-wags when I've done something wonderful (like walk into a room, share a snack with them, or go into a human version of the "play-bow.")  House calls?  Heck, they're at-home specialists!  Modern medicine has yet to come up with a better all-around all-purpose aid to mental and physical health.

I think I'll go do some more exercises.  Doctor Molly?  Are you in?

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author * Links to this page,  however, may be freely shared * Thank you for pinning, liking, linking, sharing, emailing, tweeting and otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for visiting!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Molly McNab Herds Cats and Saves the Day!

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Shotgun Willie, Escape Artist Extraordinaire

The first time I heard the expression "like trying to herd cats" was many years (okay, a couple of decades) ago when a city manager described the sitting city council.  It's a term for something that's extremely difficult or even impossible.  It wasn't until I got my own two cats, just a year ago, that I truly understood and appreciated that witty simile.   The independent (yet affectionate) nature of Shotgun Willie and Froggy Isabella, our two cats, has taught me many things -- among them, that herding cats is indeed nigh impossible.

But then … Molly McNab came along.  This morning, as my husband stepped outside, Shotgun Willie shot out the door.  I figured we'd be in for a couple of hours of cat-wrangling -- sometimes it takes two to three hours to catch the ornery, independent critters.  I went inside to grab Froggy Isabella, thinking it would be easier to catch Willie if Froggy was in their outdoors cat-run enclosure.  When I came out, minutes later, Russ was laughing and couldn't wait to tell me what had happened.

"Molly HERDED Willie!" he said.  "He was completely out of sight when he bolted.  The next thing I knew, Molly had chased him back into sight.  Willie did all his zig-zags and maneuvers but Molly turned him back three times and finally knocked him over.  She got on top of him long enough I could grab his tail!"  (It's not the first time we've had to use the tail-handle to catch William.  He doesn't object, either -- he just realizes he's been caught.)

Molly chases Willie around the house several times a day.  It's a game they play.  The other day I called her off, thinking Willie needed a break -- and darned if he didn't curl his tail again, taunt her with a look, and start the game all over.  When Molly chases him, Willie likes to race down the hallway, bank off one wall on the corner and then bounce off the next wall.  He'll usually end up flying across the dining area and onto the kitchen island to temporarily end the pursuit.

This morning, though, Russ said Molly had clearly herded Willie, cutting him like a maverick calf until she could bump him.  We were thrilled.  Here, we have a hostile environment for cats.  Coyotes, an on-site bobcat, aggressive dogs, rattlesnakes and neighbors who like to set leg-hold traps are just some of the local threats.  Daily, the coyotes come through the ranch -- usually several times a day.  It is unusual to see a loose cat anywhere in the zip code -- and those that do survive are generally feral, fearful and cautious.  We live with the constant fear that our sweet kitties, unafraid and naive as they are, will perish promptly if they get loose.

Thanks to Molly, the occasions they've escaped have been reduced.  The cats hang out next to the front door, hiding to the side, and when we enter, they try to make a dash for it -- especially if our hands are full.  If Molly is with us, though, she has the habit of bowling the cats right over as she bolts indoors.  That has helped.  Going out, though, is still a hazard.

It doesn't surprise me that Molly's herding instinct saved the day (and nabbed Shotgun Willie).  It's going to come in very, very handy in the future, I think.  And leave it to a McNab to actually prove that you CAN herd cats.

Could she herd city council members?  That might just be the ultimate challenge -- and not to mention, rewarding to watch!

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Molly McNab, Dog of the Hour, and the Ever-Patient Earl the McNab

An Unusual Growth on Earl the Mcnab's Ear.

It appeared quite suddenly:  a growth the size of a pencil eraser on the edge of Earl's ear.  The small protuberance had a rough, domed surface and a pinkish-flesh color.  We'd brought Molly McNab home just a week or two before the growth appeared, and within a couple of days of its emergence Molly's needle-like puppy teeth burst it as she and Earl played.  It was flattened like a punctured tire after being ruptured, but within a couple of days it had returned to its previous shape and size.

It was clearly not a wart; I suspected either a malignancy or possibly a manifestation of Valley Fever (coccidiomycosis) in the skin.  It caused Earl no pain, itching or discomfort.

I took this photo to show the veterinarian when taking Molly in for her puppy shots:

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

I knew it would be difficult to keep a hyper-exuberant, rambunctious terrorist of a puppy (yes, Molly is now a full-fledged wild child) away from her best friend's wound once the growth -- whatever it may be -- was excised.  As I'm awaiting surgery of my own for a torn rotator cuff, I've been trying to plan (I say that almost jokingly at this point) around my upcoming recuperation.  Can the growth wait before we remove it, I asked?  I want to be able to separate the dogs and manage them properly during Earl's recovery -- and for at least a month after my own surgery I won't be able to use my right arm.  No, Dr. Wyman said; the more it grows, the more challenging the surgery.  Even if the growth increases ever-so-slightly in size, it will be a bigger surgery on a challenging area of the ear.

I scheduled Earl for the following week with Dr. Ashmore.  In preparation, I ordered a "Comfy Cone" for Earl -- a foam-filled E-collar to prevent him (and the puppy) from making contact with the site post-surgery.  Comfy Cones are a vast improvement over the traditional white-plastic cones.  They have folds that allow the dog to rest comfortably, Velcro closures to make it easy to put on and take off, and flexibility and padding enough that when the dog inevitably smacks you on the legs, it doesn't scrape or bruise you.

Two days before the surgery date, the growth suddenly flaked off and flattened out.  It remained a hairless, flesh-colored irregular circle on the edge of the ear, but the bulk of it was gone.  I opted to keep the appointment, still concerned about a cancerous growth.  If Dr. Ashmore didn't believe the growth should come off, he wouldn't have to remove it.

In the morning pre-surgery appointment he looked at me, somewhat puzzled, after inspecting Earl's ear.  Thankfully, I had the photo on my iPad and could show him what it had looked like so I didn't appear to be an absolute helicopter pet-mom.  He said two things came to mind -- a histiocytoma, a benign growth that would be consistent with the fluctuations in size and appearance as the immune system conquered the lesion -- or a mast-cell tumor.

Argos, my dear companion that I lost in April, had suffered mast cell tumor growth as well.  Like Earl's ear growth, the tumor came up overnight and then stabilized in size.  Argos' first mast-cell tumor was huge, set against his ribs on one side, and did not have any hair loss.  Despite having far too much experience with different growths, benign and malignant, on Argos, I didn't recognize Earl's growth as familiar.  Because you've dealt with something before, you can't always assume you're seeing the same thing again -- and vice versa.

As we discussed options, and with Dr. Ashmore's input, I encouraged him to cut the growth off and just be done with it rather than waiting for any biopsy results before determining whether it needed removal.  One of my considerations was the possibility of needing to anesthetize Earl twice; the other factor, my own pending surgery.  If we were to just do a biopsy and then I'd need to schedule Earl the following week for surgery -- and if I were to be scheduled for my own just days later -- I would be unable to manage his recovery during my own.  Better just git'er done.

Because of location, it was obviously going to require cutting into the cartilage of the ear, and there wouldn't be much skin available to pull together afterwards -- meaning there was going to be a half-circle notch in Earl's lovely ear.  Dr. Ashmore told me he'd take a look at the cells before surgery and make the best determination possible as to how aggressive he should be in cutting out the growth.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Earl Rocking his Comfy Cone
Having a dog named Earl is always great fun in public.  Yesterday afternoon as I waited at the vet's for Earl to come out post-surgery, the others in the room laughed and chanted Earl's name.  One tall, genial cowboy commented that Earl was a "good, manly name."  I laughed. "Earl's not exactly a manly dog," I admitted; "he's a bit … sensitive."

Earl did well during the surgery and, as we anticipated, came out with quite a notch in his ear -- like a huge, flesh-eating cutter bee had chewed a scallop out of the edge.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Earl's Notched Ear
Above is Earl's sad "new" ear.  It's shaved, of course.  No sooner did I let him out of the car and he made his way drunkenly to Russ -- still woozy from the anesthesia -- did Russ look at him and say, "Welcome home, Chip."  It's Earl's most-reliably-erect ear, too -- so it will be more prominent in appearance than it would have been on the floppy ear.  Earl is getting character-marks.

As for Molly's greeting, she couldn't wait to jump up at Earl with happy snarls and invitations to play -- but all in all, she was much calmer than I was anticipating.  She hasn't shown any interest in licking or gnawing at his stitches, but she risks bumping the incision and breaking it open.  At this point, I'm optimistic that I'll be able to manage them more easily than I expected -- but they'll still require great caution and supervision.  Between the two of them, they have figured out how to remove Earl's stylish, comfortable cone, but it doesn't appear he's going to need it at this point.

A couple of notes on the Comfy Cone:  all in all it appears to be a well-made, useful product.  It has a nifty piping around the edge that is reflective -- handy to have if your dog happens to escape while recovering from surgery.  Keep in mind that their peripheral vision is impaired by the cone and as such they can easily wander into harm's way.

 I didn't anchor it to Earl's collar nor did I put the usual ring of Vet-rap around his neck through the collar's handy loops.  If he appears to need the collar because either he or the little terrorist are worrying the ear, I will affix it to the collar.  It was difficult choosing the correct size collar as varying brands of flexible E-collars have vastly different sizing system.  Despite Earl's neck measurements seeming to indicate a larger size, I opted for the one that would fit more snugly due to the collar's maker noting that it was the right size for "border collies, Australian shepherds" etc.  It barely fits him and is on the last ring of Velcro.  In making my selection, I was concerned about having a collar that wasn't snug enough.  Should you order a Comfy Cone, I suggest ordering based solely on neck measurement in inches and disregarding completely the manufacturer's suggestions based on breed.  Earl is not large for a stock dog yet could use a large sized cone.

Comfy Cone Flexible E-Collar

The Comfy Cone did arrive on time although I chose standard shipping through Amazon.   I ordered on  a Sunday and it was here by Wednesday afternoon -- well in time for Earl's Friday-morning surgery.

We are still waiting, of course, for the results of the histopathology (lab results) on Earl's growth.  In the meantime, keep an eye on those unusual growths on your dogs!  Those of us who've had breeds prone to harmless lipomas -- fatty tumors common in Labs, for example -- may easily recognize some of the less sinister growths.  It's a good idea to know what sort of breeds are prone to specific growths.  Ask your vet what you might expect from your own dog's skin.  If in doubt, always have any new growths checked promptly.  It's much easier to remove a small growth than a large one!

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller.  All rights reserved.  No part of this content, in whole or in part, may be reproduced without permission of the author.  Links to this page, however, may be freely shared.  Thank you for pinning, liking, linking, sharing, emailing, +1'ing and otherwise helping grow my readership.  Most of all, thank you for reading!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Molly McNab at Twelve Weeks

Molly Gives Two Ears Up!
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

It can't be possible that our little girl is twelve … weeks, that is.  Her legs have gotten longer; willowy, we'd say if she were a girl-child instead of a puppy-child.  She's developed a lovely, foxy profile.  She is completely housebroken (whew!) and she whines at the door when it's necessary for her to go out, letting out a "hey, NOW!" bark if we tarry.  Her bark is still high-pitched and her yips are giggly -- like her pre-pubescent human-child counterparts' voices.

Molly is growing up.  She went in for her shots today and, as puppies do, charmed everyone at Animal Health Services.  They charmed her, too -- Dr. Wyman sat on the floor with her and let Molly take her time wiggling her way forward to give kisses and, ultimately, climb up on Dr. Wyman's neck and shoulders (Molly's sincere sign of acceptance).  Becky bestowed treats upon her (having already been bribed with kisses and wags -- Molly remembered Becky).  Molly received a clear bill of health, a seventeen-pound+ weigh-in, and a to-go bag of snacks.  Naturally, I took advantage of having an audience to show off Molly's repertoire of puppy tricks:  the sit, high-five, down, play dead, roll over, and "puppy wave" with both paws high in the air.  Out of respect for the clinic staff who listen to yelps, yips, barks and growls all day, I elected not to have Molly demonstrate her ear-piercing "speak" on command.

Molly in the Vet's Examining Room
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
She has had a good day, as puppy days go.  She helped me do horse chores and visited the chickens in the morning.  She plunks her fat puppy booty in front of the chicken pen and stares at them, ears up, grinning.  Oh -- those ears -- they are both fully in the "up" mode now, but one leans to the inside, touching the opposite ear, like a drunken sailor propped against a lamp post.  After chores, Molly had a leisurely quasi-wrestling quasi-cuddle match with Shotgun Willie, her favorite cat.  Here's this afternoon's Molly video:  Molly and Willie cuddling and half-heartedly wrestling.  As if that's not a perfect day already, there was the ride in the car -- Molly's a good traveller by now, but she's still not sure that the car is a good thing -- and, after her return from the vet, a ramble around the ranch.

It was Molly's second full-length ramble.  Already she is exhibiting the characteristics that make me love Mcnabs:  she has learned to "go on ahead" when encouraged.  She waits a few yards ahead to make sure that her slow humans are catching up.  She leaps over the trail obstacles (a couple of downed trees I use for training the horses) with natural athleticism.  She's cautious when we approach the shared fence-line where the neighbor's large, aggressive dogs bark savagely, but she pulls herself together and happily continues as we have passed.  I don't stop and wait along the way when Molly takes a pee-break -- instead, I continue, and Molly races to catch up, just as a good dog should.

It's a joy watching Molly and Earl rambling together.  She is confident.  She doesn't cling to us or Earl but is autonomous.  She and Earl are partners already, close and attached to each other but not conjoined.  Daily, they chase balls together, play keep-away games, and run happy laps playing tag.  Molly waits for Earl to chase the ball Russ throws, then slowly creeps up on him as if approaching a herd of renegade steers.  As she nears, she suddenly bolts forward and, growling fiercely, steals the ball from Earl's grinning mouth.  At night, for their last waking hour, Molly and Earl tussle in bed.  He adopts his best coyote expression -- lips curled up in a snarl that would be frightening were his eyes not smiling.  They growl, gnaw on each other, use their paws to pin and push and slap, and when Molly and her barracuda teeth get too rough, Earl gives her a smack-down.  Her feelings hurt, she'll wiggle over to me and put her head on my shoulder; quickly consoled, she lunges at Earl again, feisty.

Her spunk amazes me.  If only we could raise little girls to be so uniformly gutsy and willing to engage, bullying would likely soon be a thing of the past.  Molly is more resilient than Earl, less sensitive, more rough and tumble.  We named her well; she truly is the unsinkable Molly Mcnab.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Why Buy a Dog, Rather Than Rescue from the Shelter?

K8 the Gr8:  Thirteen years of devotion … forever in my heart.
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

These days, telling someone that you bought a puppy from a breeder rather than adopting a dog from a shelter receives a response akin to saying you tortured kittens, were a member of the "1 percent" or had used the "N" word.  There's a social stigma, a gut reaction, an immediate condemnation.  Despising someone for choosing a purebred puppy  is reverse snobbery but founded on a distinct self-righteousness.  I call it "shelter bombing."  It's similar to "mommy bombing," that phenomena where whatever you say is one-upped by a recent mother sharing an anecdote about her precious baby Kieran or Chamomile.  "Shelter bombing," though, is when you share your excitement about your gorgeous new puppy and someone says with a tone of sanctimonious disdain, "Oh, I would not even think about buying a puppy when there are so many innocent dogs on death row at shelters."

It happened to me, recently.  I wrote an article on McNab puppies in which I carefully discussed the importance of matching one's puppy to one's lifestyle, tips for raising one's McNab, and other information specific to the breed in an effort to ensure people considering McNabs don't end up having to give them up because they weren't a good fit.  A reader signed on solely to make that oh-so-judgmental jab:  "I can't imagine BUYING a dog when so many dogs are on death row at the shelters."  There it was!  I was so excited to share the news about my beautiful new McNab puppy, Molly, and BAM!  I was rescue bombed.

Wow.  I immediately went into defensive mode, thinking, "Oh, and I bet you adopted your children rather than giving a home to an orphan, and you most certainly return your shopping cart to the store front, too."  That sort of comment always rankles me:  first off, we live in an overly-judgmental world already, and second, there are some very specific reasons why a shelter dog isn't a good fit for everyone.  Saying someone doesn't love dogs because they didn't adopt a shelter dog is about as appropriate as saying someone doesn't love kids because they had children of their own when orphans are starving in Ethiopia or crack-babies are waiting for homes in East L.A.

Of course, you're not convinced.  Right now, you're thinking, "How awful to buy a puppy!   You're going to hell, for sure, and you're going to burn for eternity sitting right next to that person who threw their Starbucks cup away rather than recycling it.  Sinner!  Heathen!  Spawn of Satan!"

But -- if you can -- set emotion aside and let's think about this rationally.  There are definite, distinct reasons why adopting isn't for everyone.  And that, dear reader, is the key:  what's right for you isn't right for everyone.  Shocking, I know.  Heresy, if you're from urban California.  Nonetheless, it's true.  Go ahead, read the rest of this article and think about it anyway.  I dare you.  (Now, some of you will stop right here, deeply offended, and will skip to the "comment" section so you can call me names.  You're missing out on some important stuff, but hey, it's a free country -- at least for those of us who aren't from urban California.)

Adding a dog to your home is serious business.  I consider my dogs (and kitties, too) to be my family -- my kids.  (Yep, there I go offending the mommy-bombers out there.  Hold it for a different forum.  This is about dogs, not little Shiloh Blue Apple Ivy.)  I don't take it lightly.  None of my dogs have ever -- ever, not in over 40 years of dog ownership -- ended up in a shelter.  They're my babies.  I would, quite literally, do anything for their benefit.  I've lost count of how many friends have laughed and said, "If there's such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as one of your dogs."  I love my dogs.

I love dogs in general.  I love big dogs, little dogs, dogs who've gone to finishing school, rambunctious redneck dogs, dogs with attitude and dogs with pure adoration.  I love purebred dogs and I love mutts.  I love dogs with papers and dogs who are paper trained and dogs who still piddle on the carpet.  I don't love carpets.  I love dogs.

As part of the responsibility I feel one should demonstrate when adding a dog to the family, I believe it's important -- critical, even -- to select the proper type of dog for one's own family, lifestyle, and circumstance.  It's a pet peeve of mine, really, when people let their ego override their common sense and they choose a dog that is not bred or suited for their lifestyle or needs.  It ends in heartbreak, often; tragedy, sometimes; and inconvenience, at minimum.  Dogs that are put in an unsuitable environment are unhappy; unhappy dogs sometimes act out; dogs that act out are often put in a shelter.  Aha!  There's the connection:  shelter dogs are the product NOT of just overbreeding.  They're the product of being unsuitable for the owners -- and for owners who don't take the sense of lifelong obligation to their pet to heart.  They're dogs whose owners failed them.  They're dogs whose owners gave them up.

Although I've adopted rescue dogs before, and loved them with every ounce of my being, I have to admit they weren't all the "perfect" dog for me.  Bonnie was my dearest companion for 16 years.  She had a good, long, healthy life.  She was an amazing dog and she was my constant confidante from the time I was 12 until I turned 28.  Bonnie jumped the fence, killed the chickens, buried my grandmother's socks, peed on the carpet, climbed the pine tree and attacked a skunk, and ran off constantly despite our six-foot wall -- and no, she wouldn't come when called.  She'd outrun me.  Bonnie was a foxhound.  She was doing foxhound things and I couldn't expect her to do otherwise.

Now, I don't regret a single minute of my all-too-short time with Bonnie.  I can't tell you how much I loved that dog.  But I can tell you that she wasn't a good fit for my lifestyle and she caused me great anguish.  I swear my first grey hairs were a result of her slipping away in a flash -- bolting over the wall and running along the street -- and my panic as I ran after her.  Many people would have given up on Bonnie.  She might easily have ended up on "death row."  I would never have given up on her.  She was my baby.

As years passed, I learned more about dogs and I learned to make rational, logical decisions when selecting them.  I have certain "minimum standards."  I want an intelligent dog.  I must have one that is non-aggressive around other animals and people.  I will not choose a breed that is infamous for mauling other dogs, children or elderly people who are merely walking their poodle on the sidewalk.  I must have a dog that is not prone to roaming, because I do not want to have to panic every time my dog goes out. It means a lot to me to have my dogs with me as I do barn chores or just hang around the property. I must have a dog that I can let out on the ranch and not worry about it leaving the place.  I also want a smooth-coated dog because I live in the desert and I care about my dogs being comfortable.  I want a dog that is a stock dog because we have horses and we like to work cattle and we value the stock dog traits.  We want a dog that can herd and gather cattle.  We also want an extremely active dog with a lot of stamina and the ability to run great distances, because they'll be hiking with us and riding with us and being busy throughout the day.  I'm here with them nearly all day, every day and I don't want a dog that needs to spend most of its day lounging on the sofa or in a baby stroller.

There's a perfect breed of dog for most people, and for us, it's the McNab.  It's rare that my husband and I don't comment about how ideal they are for us and how we love them.  They just fit. And guess what?  We keep our dogs for their entire lifespan and it's important to us that we get them as puppies.  Sinner!  You scream.  Hundreds of thousands of dogs perish every year at the shelter.  How COULD you?  Well, MY dogs don't go to the shelter.  I donate to the shelter.  I support the shelter.  I actively assist in placing dogs with people as opportunity presents itself.  But no, I do not get my dogs from the shelter.

Here's some interesting news, folks:  there aren't a lot of McNabs in the local shelter.  I know, because I check regularly. Now, sadly enough, there are many shelter and rescue types who have labeled pit-bulls and pit-bull mixes as "McNabs" -- just as they like to label pit-bulls and pit-bull mixes as "Shepherd mix" or "Labrador cross."  What a disservice to the humans and people who are trying to fit a dog to their own lifestyle.  Pitbulls, like other breeds, have specific characteristics that aren't for everyone, just as poodles do, and Great Danes do.  They should be identified as such so they have the advantage of going to a home that is well suited for them.  So should McNabs.

Now, I could just go to the shelter and choose a random dog.  I know for a fact I'd love just about any dog I randomly selected.  That doesn't mean they're right for me.  A tiny dog wouldn't fare well here, with our coyotes and bobcats and kicking horses and other hazards.  I spent 13 years nurturing and cherishing my Papillon -- and she ultimately expired of natural causes.  I have decided against having a tiny dog again, as much as I adore them -- the risks are too great.  It's too risky that they'll meet a tragic end, and too risky that I'll have another heartbreak.

I could choose a dog that would be aggressive, and have to make an unfortunate decision at some point because they are a threat.  That's heartbreaking, too.  I could choose a dog that is prone to hip dysplasia or skin allergies or other issues from over-breeding and careless bloodlines.  Heck, I could choose a dog that has breed-related inability to breathe because their nose is freakishly foreshortened.  I won't, because I love my dogs and I can't put myself through watching their misery.

I researched the right breeds and chose a stock dog -- a McNab, specifically -- because they're right for me.  That means the chance we'll have long, happy, healthy lives together is great.  We have a large property with thousands of acres out our back door that they can romp on.  We spend time with our dogs like (or more than) most people spend with their children.  We are a responsible and caring home.

I mentioned to my husband that I was "shelter bombed."  He shook his head.  He commented that one of his co-workers always gets shelter animals and that he constantly complains about them.  They aren't the right animal for him.  He does the right thing, of course, by adopting a dog.  However, it doesn't mean it's a recipe for sure success.  It may end up with his animals returning to the county pound -- and how said is that?  Sent back to death row because they weren't a good choice?

Dogs are divided into a vast variety of breeds.  They've been selectively bred for hundreds of years to exhibit breed-specific tendencies and traits and conformation.  Poodles are bred for a certain standards; bloodhounds, another entirely; Belgian Malinois, yet a completely different profile.  They are bred for personality traits, work drives, play drives, shape, size, ad infinitum.  One breed doesn't fit all, folks.  It is a cruelty to buy a Malinois and expect it to be a poodle. It's a cruelty to buy a poodle and expect it to be a border collie.  It's a cruelty to buy a border collie and keep it in your poodle-sized apartment and your poodle-suited lifestyle.

For us, we avoid poodles.  Not that I don't appreciate their intelligence and their lack of shedding and their cute, bright eyes.  They're just not the right breed for us.  We have intelligently, rationally chosen McNabs.  Now, you might favor poodles.  I have friends who adopted the most wonderful, loving poodles from the pound.  That makes me happy.  In fact, if you adopt your wonderful, loving random dog from the pound, that makes me happy, too.  It makes me even happier when you keep that dog and love him for the rest of his natural life.  That's a success story.

But don't immediately respond with your self-righteous, "Oh, I would never buy a dog when there are dogs on death row at the shelter" crap.  That just smacks of today's incessant need to control and judge.  It might be right for you but it isn't right for us.  I'll never look at your dog and say, "Oh, I would never buy a dog of unknown parentage."  The way you choose your dogs is as personal a decision as how you choose to have your child.  If you adopt a child rather than choosing to bring one into this overpopulated, violent world, you're a hero.  Choose to carry your own child in your womb and then raise baby Kimber lovingly and well, you're a hero, too.  And if you adopt a shelter dog -- guess what, you're a hero.  But before you raise that sword of righteousness because others don't get their pups from the pound, think about those of us who consider our dogs our own children, and go about having them as logically, rationally and intelligently as possible.  Why?  Because we love them -- and we want them to have long, happy, loved lives with us.

Copyright © 2014 by MJ Miller.  All rights reserved.  No part of this content, including photographs, may be copied, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author.  Links to this page, however, may be freely shared.  Thank you for linking, liking, pinning, sharing, emailing, forwarding, +1'ing, tweeting or otherwise helping grow my readership.  Most of all, thank you for visiting and reading.  May dog hold you in the palm of his paw.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Molly at Nine Weeks

I'm a terrific pup-parent, but, I'm afraid, a terrible blog-mother.  I'd looked forward to chronicling Molly McNab's adventures with newfound commitment.  Puppy antics are worth sharing and those puppy pics -- well, who can't feel just that much better about life after looking at those eyes, that nose, those pink puppy bellies and soft little paw-pads?  (No one worth writing for, anyway!)  I was determined to jot down a few amusing anecdotes or interesting observations about puppy development on a near-daily basis.

But Molly -- Molly the McNablet -- has been a bad influence on me.  It's tough to type when there's a puppy in the vicinity.  They are the ultimate distraction. "Play with me," the tail wags; "Let me out," the  squeal demands; "Just try and catch me and get this back," the gremlin within them teases as they lope down the hallway with whatever stolen goods they've just procured.  The puppy breath beckons; the bright eyes engage.  I pup-crastinate.

When I sat down to write Molly's week eight update, she was eight weeks old.  That was last week.  She has been growing rapidly since then.  Her funny, stumpy legs have gotten willowy.  Her tail is as long as a lemur's. She has gone from funny piggy puppy to an adolescent.

Molly at seven weeks.
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Each breed or type of dog has, buried deep within its DNA, amazing traits that have been bred into them by intention or accident over the generations.  McNabs fascinate me with their own innate tendencies.  More than any of the other dogs I've had, McNabs learn by watching.  They are self-learners, to some degree.  It makes training them an experience filled with serendipity and epiphany.  I've been spending a few minutes in sessions throughout the day teaching Molly puppy tricks -- tricks that may not necessarily have any "real" purpose in themselves, but that will encourage the flexibility and versatility of her capable mind.  She has an uncanny way of figuring out what I'm asking so quickly that I first write it off as an accident -- a spurious correlation.  As I was teaching her to lie down on command, and then to crawl forward, I started saying, "Bang bang!" and holding the training morsel just to the side of her nose.  She promptly lay flat on her side and took the morsel.  From then on, she grasped the concept of "bang, bang" and (unless caught up in a distracted moment) flops over.

Oh, those distracted moments.  She's still at that young age when thoughts are like butterflies in her tiny head.  I can't fault her for that; focus will come on its own.  For now, I'm glad to see that she "gets" the trick and associates it with what I'm asking.  Later, she will acquire discipline all her own.  She has an exuberance as she does her routine that compensates for any lack of adherence to arrangement.  When Russ spoils her with her "meatballs" (as he calls her favorite treat) at night, he picks up the container and Molly -- entirely of her own volition -- goes through every trick she knows.  She does the sit, the high-five, the sit-up-pretty, the down, the play-dead bang-bang flop.  She does them in no particular order, repeating some a few times, making us wait for others.  Russ dissolves into laughter.  No, there's no discipline.

For now, Molly is all fun and wonder.  Like an eager toddler, she runs wherever she goes.  Gotta go out, Molly?  She does so at the run, bouncing with arched back.  It's impossible not to get caught up in her enthusiasm … her joie de vivre.  If only we could all be so delighted in the world around us -- a world full of joyful surprises, kind people and daily adventure.

Molly shares her playfulness with Shotgun Willie, the cat.  Froggy still maintains a dignified distance from her, although she has come to accept the pup; but Willie -- Willie adores Molly and initiates play time with her.  I've come to think of him as "world's most tolerant cat."  Molly will pounce on him and Willie promptly rolls over, paws up, belly exposed.  Molly straddles him, gnawing with her barracuda teeth on his tender ears, his legs, his belly.  He has yet to smack her in anything other than playful pats; he has not become frightened, nor has she gotten too rough with him.  I assume -- and hope -- that as she gets bigger he will set boundaries.  For now, he wrestles happily with her, then hops up and lets her chase him, his fur glued together with puppy slobber.  See for yourself in this morning's video of them enjoying quality time:

As I write, Molly naps.  Herding the cat, playing rough-and-tumble with Earl, and picking up any unusual object she finds only to carry it about like a treasured prize, have all taken their toll on her.  She must recharge her batteries so she can run with Earl as I do barn chores.  She must save her strength so she can have puppy mayhem when Russ gets home.  She must reenergize so she can get me out of the bathtub every ten minutes to let her out.  And as for me, I must have more caffeine.

Molly Wrestling with Earl

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller.  All rights reserved.  No part of this article, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author.  Links to this page, however, may be freely shared. Thank you for linking, pinning, sharing, liking, +1'ing, tweeting and otherwise helping grow my readership.  Most of all, thank you for visiting.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Travels with Molly: The Homecoming

Of all the reasons to travel, is there any as wonderful as a puppy-retrieval mission?  Imagine my excitement, after months of waiting for Molly McNab's birth and first few weeks, to embark on a road trip to pick her up.  Road trips are favorite activities for me, anyway -- but a road trip with a puppy as destination?  Pure bliss.  Look out, California freeways -- I'm on a mission from Dog.

The view from the winding mountain road through the Los Padres National Forest
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

We met our new little girl at Justy and Teri Garcin's Hidden Highlands Ranch in the Los Padres foothills.  I can't imagine better raisers-of-puppies -- or a better lifestyle for these dogs.  They do what McNabs are meant to do:  herd livestock, run long distances, romp with other dogs, and keep a watchful eye on the world around them.  I rarely write about people by name out of respect for privacy, but I can't help but rave about Teri and Justy.  The welcome they gave us, the amazing start they gave our pup, and the thoroughly enjoyable conversations we shared will forever endear me.

Visit the Garcin's Website Here

We met Molly as she was still surrounded by her siblings in a pen-full of puppy exuberance.  The entire litter excelled at pants-leg nipping, waggage, and wiggling.  Not quite seven weeks old, they were already independent and assertive.  Had they not all been spoken for long ago, there's no way we would have made it off the property just one puppy in tow.  Nearby, a McNab-Border Collie litter fought epic mock pup-fights, clamored for attention, and indulged themselves in puppy joyfulness.  This is how puppies are supposed to be raised:  already wanted by committed and carefully-chosen owners; an extremely roomy "puppy corral" that is secure, perfectly clean, and safe; and healthy, sound and properly-screened parent dogs.  

We promptly nabbed our McNab from the rest of the pack and introduced ourselves to her on the deck overlooking the puppy pen.  There, as a sociable cockatoo named Olive supervised, we fell thoroughly in love.  Holly, Molly's mother, and Nellie, the Border Collie, showed off their herding skills for us on a small band of Barbados sheep.

At dusk, Teri escorted us and the older dogs on a ranch-run with her quad.  McNab heaven, that:  happy, active dogs among their own kind, loping along with their ear-tips flapping.  Molly's sire, Cinch, almost stunned me with his demeanor.  In horses, we call it "presence" -- that almost-indefinable quality that emanates from within.  Cinch was clearly His Own Dog.  He exuded charisma and a mature, wise bearing.  I was smitten.

Too soon, early the next morning and as Holly stood guard, we gathered up our black-and-white bundle and headed back to Arizona.  Molly was a capable traveler. Just as Teri had predicted, she suffered a minor bout of motion-sickness that soon passed.  From thereon, she was a pro.

Molly McNab peering out from her travel crate.
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
We attempted to be cautious when we made puppy-pit-and-piddle stops to find locations where others had not gone before.  Puppies are, of course, highly susceptible to viruses such as the coronavirus and parvo.  It seemed that whenever we pulled off the road for a puppy-break, we found veritable poo-fests.    (Yes, we did clean up after our own dog.)  Still, Molly made it home intact and without contracting some dread illness.  Much of the drive she spent sleeping behind my neck, where she'd crawled up persistently -- paws on each side of my head, twitching lazily with puppy-dreams.

Then, after several hundred miles and ten hours' drive, we were home.  Earl -- our five-year-old McNab -- and our year-old cats, Froggy Isabella and Shotgun Willie -- were shocked at our arrival.  Here's how the introduction went:

Molly Meets Her New Family

Earl was tentative; Willie was immediately intrigued; and poor Froggy Isabella was devastated.  For the next couple of days, Froggy pouted, her back turned to us from her basket on top of the pantry.  Finally, as I sat on the floor snapping photographs of Molly, Froggy made her way down to us. I was thrilled:  Froggy was approaching the puppy, and I was ready to capture the Kodak moment forever!  As I trained my camera on the pair, Molly lying quietly beneath a chair, and Froggy slowly and regally approached her.  Just as Molly leaned forward to touch noses, Froggy growled, hissed, struck out and slapped Molly with a left paw.  No, I didn't get the exact moment of the smack-down on film, but here is the split second just prior:
Froggy Welcomes Molly.
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
As soon as she'd made her point, Froggy strode over to the rubber ball Molly had just been playing with -- an old hollow ball with a bell inside that Froggy had never, ever been interested in -- and played with it for a few minutes.  Her message was clear:  "This is my house. These are my toys.  Everything you see is mine.  Everything you shall ever see in the future is mine."

 And so Molly has been fully accepted into the family.  All is well in McNabville.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller.  All rights reserved.  No part of this article, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author.  Links to this page, however, may be freely shared.  Thank you for liking, pinning, +1'ing, forwarding, sharing and otherwise helping grow my audience.  Don't forget to sign up to follow by email!  And most of all, thank you for visiting!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Big, Big Pawprints to Fill

Argos, the grey-muzzled dog of my heart, on his last day.
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

I love dogs.  I am, admittedly, a little bit crazy about them.  I have to admit being more sentimental about dogs than I am, really, about anything else.  They melt me.  I can't look at a dog with a white muzzle without getting tears in my eyes.  I have a stack of unfinished dog books on my shelf because all good dog books end with the dog's death and I can't read on, knowing that the dog is going to die. 

It tears me apart when my own dogs go.  They're the better part of me, those dogs.  I console myself that I give them the best part of myself -- the patience, kindness and unconditional adoration I rarely seem to muster for the people around me.  I tell myself that as devastating as it is to lose a beloved wag-tail friend, it allows me the opportunity to bring yet another such special soul into my home.  The only up-side of a dog's unfairly short lifespan is that it gives us the chance to know more amazing dogs.

Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to the dog of my heart, Argos.  Barely on the heels of losing K8 the Gr8, my Papillon, Argos left.  He was eleven, a good number of years for a dog so big -- well over 100 pounds of big, and not a soft, TV-watching 100+ pounds, but a hundred pounds of muscle and athleticism.  Bigger still was his loving, gentle heart.  I may never meet another dog as kind, sweet and gentle as Argos. 

I picked Argos out from a litter of black Labs from the yellow Lab owned by my friend Adrianne.  It was an intentional breeding by an unintended male dog:  Adrianne's blonde beauty, Maggie, had already been bred to a stout, finely bred field-trial champion -- another yellow Lab.  I already had Emma, from Maggie's previous litter, and wasn't looking to get another dog at the moment.  Still, I'd loved black Labs since childhood.  Adrianne convinced me to come choose one.  She had one in mind for me:  a spunky pup with a white steer-head shape on his chest.  She called him "T-Bone." He immediately attacked my shoelaces.  

As I admired the litter of pure puppy mayhem, I noticed one solemn-looking pup sitting before me, almost unmoving among the black mass of activity.  A solid black pup, he stared at me with the most amazing, deep, loving eyes.  As the others yipped and play-growled and bounced, my Argos just studied me with quiet affection.  I lifted him up and said, "This is the one I want!"  Adrianne replied, aghast, "But that's just Plain Black Wrapper!"  No, I said, it's Argos.

I named him for loyalty and devotion.  In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus travels for 20 years before returning home.  After his lengthy adventures, he had heard that his wife, Penelope, was entertaining other men and had been disloyal.  Intent on learning the truth, he disguised himself as a wanderer -- a transient.  As he approached the door of his own estate, he was turned away by his own servant, who did not recognize him.  Beside the entryway, lying near death where he'd been cast away on a pile of manure, was his favorite hunting dog, Argos.  That Argos -- unlike the humans in his life -- recognized Odysseus and feebly wagged his tail before dying.  

Loyalty.  That was my own Argos.  During my cancer treatments, I had to hurry home and lie down for an hour afterwards.  Argos lay beside me on the bed, his huge head resting on my stomach, chest or hips.  He knew.  Good dogs do.

Argos contracted cancer, himself, after that.  We had a large tumor removed from his side and he bore a great scar as a reminder of the incision and the drainage plugs.  Still, he stayed with me.  Still just a young dog, he then developed spondylosis.  His spine fused in three places and his ever-wagging tail fused to where it was a stiff, hard appendage -- and still it wagged.  I called it "the very lethal tail" as he clubbed us with it.  

When hungry, he picked up his rubber bowl and carried it around, dropping it before me -- usually on my feet.  He was always, always hungry, that dog.  He had a special fondness for carrots and I often bought them by the 20-pound bag.  Inevitably, a fellow shopper would ask, "Is that for your horses?"  "I do have horses," I'd reply, "but the horses don't get as many as my black Lab."  Argos would sit in front of the refrigerator for vast lengths of time -- twenty, thirty minutes -- staring at it.  I'd leave the room and return; still, he'd sit, waiting for the door to open and yield a carrot.  Those lab eyes always worked.  Just as that stare had convinced me to bring him home, he'd get a carrot every time.  

Argos loved belly rubs, too.  He'd roll over and grin his appealing, mirthful grin.  Who could resist giving him a belly rub, that lethal tail wagging madly?  And when we'd be having a conversation around him, he'd lie motionless, his eyes closed, but he never missed a word -- when something struck him as funny, he'd start that wagging from even across the room.  I'd ask, "Is that funny, Arg?" and the tail would go into overtime.  

He had a terrific sense of humor, that dog.  At night, he'd go out to do his business.  I'd open the door for his return and hold his collar for a moment and then we'd race to the bed.  He loved to get there first and jump into my place, his head on my pillow, and immediately close his eyes -- pretending to be either dead or sleeping.  I'd tug on him, push him, yell at him -- and there he stayed, unmoving.  It was his own special joke.  Only by giving him the animal crackers we kept on the dresser could we get him to move.

Argos, laughing at life.
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Arg sneezed on command, retrieved his bowl whenever asked, and could catch a biscuit placed on his nose.  He could hear a crumb drop from 40 paces and find it wherever it had fallen.  He adored babies of all sorts -- from human babies (whereas I am baby-intolerant) to foals and puppies.  Every time a mare foaled, I'd take Arg to the barn where he'd wag madly and crawl under the rails to sniff the foal all over.  Argos was as proud of those foals as if he'd fathered them.  When I brought home kittens in his final year, his life was complete.  No dog ever adored kittens like Argos did.  The big dog who always followed his nose -- often in the opposite direction of where I stood calling him to come -- would run, bouncing as well as he could with his crippled up back, when I'd yell, "Argos!  Kitties, kitties, kitties!"  No dog -- no living creature -- ever had such infectious happiness.

He loved his rambles.  I'd let him out the front door and call out, "Is there a ramblin' dog around?" And Argos would start to bounce and lope toward the trail, pure exuberance.  Off we'd go, Argos making whuff-whuff noises as his big nose took in every smell the trail had to offer.  Earl the McNab would race ahead and stop, looking back, making sure we were all coming.

Thanks to Duralactin, Cosequin and Adequan, Argos' spondylosis remained at bay for several years, despite the occasional painful flare-up.  Two weeks ago, our little family -- me, my husband, two kitties, Earl the McNab and Argos the Lab -- sat outside, enjoying the warm spring afternoon.  A breeze rocked us on the hammock; Argos sat in the pineapple weed beside us, Earl nearby.  He'd been doing well and had been active and happy in recent weeks, although his age and condition had been deteriorating steadily.  He'd been playful and had gone on regular rambles around the property -- but he voluntarily cut his rambles down and quit halfway through, rather than making the full perimeter loop.  We knew something was starting to change.  I said to my husband, "I hope that, when Argos' last day comes, he gets to spend it just like this, surrounded by his family in the sun."  

I didn't know that it was prophetic.  That Saturday afternoon, unexpectedly, Argos suddenly declined.  I will spare you, dog lover that you may be, the details that still break my heart.  Suffice it to say that the next morning, we said goodbye to Argos, the dog of my heart.  As the veterinarian inserted the IV into his leg, he licked her face and wagged that lethal tail.  

Several months ago, when we lost our 13-year old Papillon, K8 the Gr8, we got onto a waiting list for a female McNab puppy.  I had always hoped she would arrive before Argos left us.  He would have found such joy in meeting a new puppy.  He would have much wisdom to share with her:  wag often.  Look for reasons to grab happy.  Never lose your sense of humor.  Steal a kiss from your favorite human whenever they lean in your direction.  Wait patiently, and the carrot will come to you.  Follow your heart (and your nose).  

Molly McNab joined our family exactly two weeks after Argos left it.  She has only Earl, her McNab "brother," to terrorize -- and terrorize she does.  I've named her after Molly, my Dalmatian of many years ago, who had the same gentle old soul that Argos had.  Our little Molly is putting sloppy kisses on the wounds Argos and Kate have left in their passing.  She is a rambunctious, happy, wag-ful little girl.  She has big, big paw prints to fill -- but I think she's up to the task.  

Just as we make room for another when we depart, so do our beloved dogs.  They leave us too soon, but another joins us and helps fill the inevitable void.  Meet Molly McNab:  we're so happy to have her.

Molly McNab Miller
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller.  All rights reserved.  No part of this article, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author.  Links, however, may be freely shared.  Thank you for linking, pinning, sharing, liking, forwarding and otherwise helping me grow my readership -- and most of all, thank you for visiting.